Blinken landed in Israel to push Gaza ceasefire plan

AFP , Monday 10 Jun 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel on Monday to promote a Gaza truce and captive release plan as Israeli bombardment again rocked the Palestinian territory.

The aircraft of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The aircraft of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks his aircraft as he arrives at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on June 10, 2024. Blinken arrived in Israel as part of a regional tour to push for a much-awaited Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. AFP

 

After a stop in Egypt to meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Blinken arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is Washington's top diplomat's eighth visit to the region since the war on Gasza began on October 7.

Netanyahu has been politically buoyed in Israel by a rescue mission that succeeded in freeing four captives on Saturday but was deadly and destructive for Palestinians as it left 274 people killed and almost 700 injured, many of them women and children.

A day later, though, Netanyahu received his first major political blow of the conflict when Benny Gantz and two war cabinet members quit.

Gantz, a former army chief, criticized Netanyahu, especially for failing to outline a post-war governance plan for Gaza, and said the prime minister "is preventing us" from a "real victory".

The centrist politician also challenged Netanyahu to set a date for elections, a demand shared by a protest movement that has regularly and noisily taken to Israel's streets against the right-wing government.

Blinken was also expected to meet Gantz during his visit, a senior United States official said.

Witnesses in north and central Gaza reported helicopter gunfire and naval shelling hitting Gaza City, and air strikes on Deir al-Balah during the latest fighting.

Street battles raged in the southern areas of Rafah and Khan Yunis, where bodies were seen lying in the streets and Palestinian civilians were fleeing, an AFP correspondent said.

Since Oct.7, Israel's brutal war on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 37,124 people, 70% of them women, and children, with another more than 84,712 people wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry's latest figuers.

The toll includes at least 40 deaths over the past 24 hours, the ministry said on Monday.

The war has brought widespread devastation to Gaza and displaced most of its 2.4 million inhabitants, many of whom United Nations agencies warn are on the brink of starvation.

Pressure 
 

The long war and siege, the spiralling Palestinian death toll and the utter devastation of vast swathes of Gaza have heaped global pressure on Israel to stop the war.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy, mediators have failed to broker a new truce since the week-long ceasefire in November that, along with the freeing of captives, saw Palestinians released from Israeli detention.

US President Joe Biden made a renewed push to halt the fighting when he presented what he called an Israeli truce proposal on May 31 and urged Hamas to agree to it.

Before presenting the proposal, Biden had suspended a shipment of weapons to Israel and accused Netanyahu of prolonging the war to stay in power, an assertion on which he then backtracked.

Talks resumed soon after between US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, but without achieving a breakthrough so far.

Hamas officials have insisted that any agreement must guarantee a permanent end to the war, a demand Israel has firmly rejected, vowing to destroy Hamas and free the remaining captives.

Washington has laid out the latest proposal in a draft resolution before the UN Security Council, where it has previously blocked a number of ceasefire resolutions.

A first phase would see an "immediate, full and complete ceasefire", the release of captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and the "withdrawal of Israeli forces from the populated areas in Gaza".

This would also allow the "safe and effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale throughout the Gaza Strip to all Palestinian civilians who need it," according to the draft text seen by AFP.

Diplomatic sources said a vote was planned for Monday but this had not yet been confirmed.

Jordan, Qatar 
 

Blinken was expected to promote the plan on his latest wartime crisis tour of the region, with stops also planned in Jordan and Qatar.

During closed-door talks in Cairo also attended by Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Sisi and Blinken discussed "joint efforts to reach a ceasefire and captive-prisoner exchange" deal, according to a statement from the Egyptian presidency.

Blinken told reporters in Cairo that his message to regional governments was that "if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes" to the proposal.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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